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THE time for the election of men to Class and Class-Day offices is now near at hand, and if one can judge from present indications, the election will be harmonious, and calculated to unite the various elements of the class, as well as to enhance the honor of the choice to those who shall be elected. But it is time that the Senior Class of Harvard should cast off those restraints on open elections which have hitherto existed, and which have so often divided rather than united the class interests at the very time when unanimity of action was most essential.
The members of the present Senior Class certainly have not forgotten the stormy class elections of '74, when the system of elections by societies was in the full glory of its ineffectiveness. The Class of '75 followed with its plan of allotment of officers to the different society and non-society elements, while approximating to an open election in the actual ballot for officers. I think it may be safely said that '75 made the most of this scheme of election, and by making the committee on allotment of offices individually representative of a fixed numerical constituency, it secured itself a more peaceful election than some of its predecessors. But the inherent defects of the '75 system are such as to make it only good as a temporary expedient, and such an expedient was absolutely demanded by the peculiar nature of that class. The system employed a year ago was generally recognized as a decided step towards open elections, in the best sense of the term, and as such was heartily welcomed by Harvard men. Yet this system contains much of the evil that existed in the old system of former classes, without catching much of the justice and tone of an open election. Any instance of its normal workings will show this.
We have, in a given year, the office of Poet to be filled by the Pudding, and that of Orator to be filled by the Pi Eta. In each society there is an insignificant minority advancing a second candidate, but these minorities work for their candidates, and in the general election both minority nominees are elected by the votes of the rival society and non-society men. Such a case is not only possible but probable; mutual disappointment to the societies must result often from its use, and the election of men whom their own fellow-members in society consider inferior candidates certainly will not result in our being represented by our best men. This is but one instance of the failure of the '75 system, and, were there space, others, of less vital importance individually might be added. Seeing all its short-comings, one is puzzled to understand how leading men in the last Senior Class could have endangered or ruined their chances of being honored by the class, and in turn honoring it, in class offices, by their advocacy of a thoroughly open election. The most charitable explanation, though it be but a partial one, is seen in the exceptional constitution of that class; with its many superficial lines of distinction, the spirit of the clique, jealous of every power that could be construed into a right, was so stimulated as to overrun class interests, even. The class was, therefore, unfitted to take up and use to its own advantage a system of elections that demand, as primarily essential to its success, subordination of all clique and cabal interests to the best interests of the class.
The present Senior Class has been so generally united throughout the three years past, that it starts at once towards open elections with a great advantage in its favor. And further, no society has men so pre-eminently qualified to fill such leading offices as those of Orator and Poet, that they might not go about as well to either society or to the non-society element. In every way the Class of '76 is eminently fitted to inaugurate the system of open elections, and so to throw off that partiality of choice that hitherto has, in some measure, detracted from the honor of holding class offices. But the satisfactoriness of such an election must depend, as in all such cases where restrictions are done away with, on the gentlemanly and honorable spirit which the influential men shall give it; and certainly such a spirit we have a right to expect from a class that has been so generally free from the wire-pulling of mystic-lettered organizations, and the petty partisanship of schools and cliques. Not for an instant would I advance the idea that open elections secure perfection in representation; for that desirable object has never been secured, I believe, except where the representatives equal or outnumber the represented. But I do hold it as easily demonstrable, that all the evils of open election exist in the old society system, while its virtues are, for the most part, there unknown.
I anticipate the objection that the upholders of the old system, if such there be, will certainly bring forward, namely, that the new system substitutes wire-pulling and buttonholing among the class in general, instead of confining it to societies individually, - that elections will be run by cliques instead of societies. Even if this were admitted, - and respect for the higher tone of the class forbids it, - we should be the gainer in the fact that the wire-pulling is done by ever-changing cliques, taking their stand annually on very different class interests, and such as are demanded by the circumstances of their times, rather than by organized societies using an inherited duty of opposition to rival societies, whether or not in subservience to class interests.
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